Mental Tests Are Ordered for Cole Bombing Suspect

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FORT MEADE, Md. -- The military tribunal case stemming from the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole bogged down on Monday when prosecutors asked for a mental health evaluation of the defendant, citing defense lawyers' repeated assertions that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress because of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, granted the request to have a medical board examine the defendant, a Saudi man namedAbd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, to determine whether he is mentally incompetent to assist in his own defense. The decision meant that most of the pretrial motions that had been scheduled for argument this week would be delayed for at least a month.

"We will not proceed until said examination is completed," Colonel Pohl said, later adding, "It appears we are not going to make too much progress this week."

The request was unusual because typically defense lawyers raise questions about whether a client is mentally competent to stand trial. But prosecutors asked for the review because they want an official pronouncement that Mr. Nashiri is mentally capable of participating in his own case in order to reduce the risk of a successful appeal.

Mr. Nashiri is charged with helping to plot Al Qaeda's attack on the Cole, in which 17 sailors were killed. He was held for years by the C.I.A., whose interrogators subjected him to a variety of torments, some of which -- like the suffocation technique called waterboarding -- were approved by the Bush administration, while others -- like mock execution --went beyond official policy.

Defense lawyers, who want to establish that Mr. Nashiri was damaged by torture in order to argue that he should be spared execution if he is convicted, did not oppose the request for a mental health examination, but argued over its details. They urged Colonel Pohl to hear from Vincent Iacopino, a torture victims specialist with Physicians for Human Rights, to ensure that the review did not "re-traumatize" their client, and the judge agreed to hear his testimony later this week.

Colonel Pohl also ordered the government to allow a medical consultant for the defense, Sondra Crosby, to conduct a physical examination of Mr. Nashiri, unshackled and alone, but filmed by a surveillance camera without audio and with guards outside the door. The military had insisted that Mr. Nashiri either be shackled or that three guards be in the room when she examined his body for physical signs of torture.

The hearing on Monday was the first public appearance since October of Mr. Nashiri, who wore white clothing and listened quietly to a translation of the proceedings through earphones, sometimes stroking his chin and swiveling his chair back and forth. A feed from the high-security courtroom at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was transmitted to several locations inside the United States, including Fort Meade.

The hearing began with an attempt by defense lawyers to halt the proceeding, saying they were concerned that intelligence agencies might be surreptitiously monitoring their confidential conversations with their client and one another.

The complaint came after the interruption in the feed last week of a tribunal hearing involving the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The episode revealed that outside security officials, apparently with the involvement of the C.I.A., were monitoring a live feed and could turn off the version shown, with a 40-second delay, to the public and reporters.

Last week, Colonel Pohl ordered the government to disconnect the technology that allowed outsiders to censor the proceedings. On Monday, a prosecutor, Anthony Mattivi, told him that had been done.

Mr. Mattivi told the judge that prosecutors had investigated and could not "find any evidence whatsoever of this improper monitoring they alleged exists."

But Richard Kammen, a defense lawyer, said that he was concerned that microphones in the courtroom were sensitive enough to pick up conversations from a distance, and that "we don't know but we have reason to believe that there is a significant possibility of a monitoring capability" in the meeting room at the prison facility.

The issue was left unresolved, but the defense lawyers indicated they would seek to learn more with the government's help, and Colonel Pohl suggested that he may order the government to remove the microphones attached to tables on the defense side of the courtroom.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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